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Testing in Design Thinking

The five stages of Design Thinking — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test — are not meant to be sequential steps to be taken as the project progresses. Instead, they are “modes” that you can take on during each phase of your project (sometimes in parallel or in iterative loops), as and when they would facilitate the most learning and value.

For example, prototyping can be undertaken early on in the project — ahead of ideation — in order to discover more about the users. Simple prototypes can be developed, not just to test ideas, but to understand more about how users operate on a daily basis. For example, the Prototyping stage could feed into the Empathize stage.

Testing is not the end of the design thinking process, since design thinking happens in loops, and we may find some mistakes and will have to go back to the other stages such as ideation or research. The whole process could be an infinite loop. Some products such as digital software's, never actually finish, and constantly need updating to keep up with the evolving technology. While some products do finish. A movie, a story etc. But they constantly need reflection and learnt from.

What is testing?

Testing is, quite simply, the process of testing your prototype on real users. During the test phase, you’ll see how your target users interact with your prototype, and gather valuable feedback. You’ll learn where your prototype succeeds and where it needs to be improved. The insights gathered during the testing phase will enable you to iterate on your prototype.

Why conduct user testing?

Together, prototyping and testing add huge value to the design process. Not only does user testing help you to remain user-centric; it also makes good business sense. By testing your ideas early and often, you are able to identify design flaws and usability issues before you take the product to market. This has countless benefits for you, the user, and the business!

So why conduct user testing?

  • User testing saves time and money: By catching errors and usability issues early on, you ensure that the product you eventually launch is the most bug-free, user-friendly product it can be. What happens if you skip the testing phase in favor of getting the product developed as soon as possible? You’ll spend considerable time and money correcting the product post-launch. Not only is this frustrating—it’s also bad for the bottom line.

  • User testing reveals unexpected insights: No matter how thorough your initial user research was, or how convinced you are that you’ve designed the optimal solution to your user’s problem, there are always new insights to be uncovered. Seeing real users interact with an early version of your product will highlight issues that you would not have anticipated otherwise.

  • User testing improves user satisfaction: Design Thinking is all about putting the user first. By gathering first-hand user feedback, you can make informed design decisions—improving user satisfaction in the long run. As a designer, prototyping and testing will keep you focused on the user at all times. Of course, satisfied customers are good for business, too!

As you can see, prototyping and testing makes sense for everyone involved! Now let’s consider when might be the best time to conduct user tests.

When should you carry out user testing?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that user testing belongs right at the end of the design process, just before you’re getting ready to launch. However, user testing should actually be incorporated throughout. Be sure to test early and often!

In the early stages of the process, testing will help you to get feedback on your initial ideas. At this point, you’ll use low-fidelity prototypes—such as a very basic paper model—to test out a concept.

As your design starts to take shape, you’ll move onto digital prototypes. Low and mid-fidelity clickable prototypes can be used to test things like layout and information architecture, without distracting the user with too many visuals.

Towards the end of the process, you’ll seek to fine-tune the details of your design. You’ll test the overall usability of the product with high-fidelity, fully functional digital prototypes that look and behave just like the real thing.

How to conduct user testing: A step-by-step guide

Now you’re familiar with some common user testing methods, let’s get down to the logistics. When it comes to running user tests, there are certain steps you need to follow—regardless of your chosen method:

  1. Set an objective: The very first thing you’ll need to do is set a clear objective. What do you want to learn from your user tests? What question do you hope to answer? Setting a clear objective will help you to build the right kind of prototype and choose the most appropriate user testing method. For example: If you’re designing an ecommerce app, your objective might be to test how easy it is for your users to add an item to their Wishlist.

  2. Build your prototype: You know what you want to test; now it’s time to build your prototype. If you’re in the very early stages of testing an idea, you’ll stick to low-fidelity prototypes. Once you’ve decided on a concept, you’ll want to test the finer details, such as information architecture or microcopy, using mid and high-fidelity prototypes.

  3. Create a plan: For the sake of consistency, it’s important to create a plan for your user testing session. Your plan should include your objective or question; the method you intend to use to test your prototype; the number of users you’ll test on; a list of all the equipment you’ll need; and how you’ll document and measure your findings. Depending on your chosen method, you may also want to create a script in order to keep the session focused.

  4. Recruit participants: Another crucial aspect of user testing is recruiting the right participants. You want to test on users who represent your target audience, so spend a bit of time identifying some key criteria. If you’re designing an over-50s dating app, for example, it wouldn’t make sense to run user tests with a group of 18 year-olds.

  5. Gather all the necessary equipment: Having recruited your participants, you’re ready to get the session underway. Refer back to your plan and make sure you’ve got everything you need to conduct the tests: screen recording software if you’re conducting remote testing, pens and paper for taking notes, and, of course, your prototype!

  6. Document your findings: Throughout each user test, be sure to document your findings. You’ll need a thorough record of each test in order to analyze your observations and compare the results of each session.

What next?

You’ve conducted several user tests and have documented your findings. What happens now?

After a round of user tests, you’ll need to spend some time analyzing the results. You’ll look for patterns in what you’ve observed and the feedback you received. Your tests will either validate that something works well, or highlight issues that need to be fixed. Either way, the insights you gather from user testing will inform your next steps. Do you need to reiterate on the current design in order to fix a usability issue? Did your initial concept completely fail in front of your users, sending you back to the ideation phase? Perhaps your test users confirmed that your information architecture is extremely user friendly, meaning you’re ready to start refining the design.

Design Thinking is all about iterating and reiterating until your product is ready for launch—but it doesn’t stop there! Even once your product is on the market, you’ll continue to run tests and add new features or make improvements.

Prototyping and testing are absolutely key to creating user-friendly products, so remember to test early and often!

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